Four Exhibits at the Museum of Grief Oil painting. Small town cemetery, open grave waiting for a Vietnam vet. Artist unknown. Though the painter avoids the obvious graveyard clichés – no horror movie mist floating above the grass, no spirits rising like shadows from their plots – note the late afternoon sun, how its burnt umber light casts a pleasant gloom on the landscape. Some gravestones list to the west as though blown by wind. In the foreground, a fresh slit in the earth, precise as a surgical cut. Panoramic photograph. Rwandan genocide. Photographer unknown. A wall of skulls. Skulls stacked on skulls. Skulls. Skulls. Skulls. And skulls. A few skulls are upside down. On a clear night the skulls glow whiter than the fullest moon. Note the skull with a rusted spike in its forehead. Most have lost their jawbones. The skulls with jaws smile wide for the camera. Audio visual loop. Funeral service for a school-shooting victim. Watch the twelve-footed march of the pallbearers, listen to their shoes glide in quiet rhythm against the linoleum. The casket comes to rest in a circle of October sun. The undertaker makes a shushing gesture with his hand. A long moment of silence, and then, a cry. The sound is operatic, a high sopranic note unnerving in its musical beauty. Computer animation. Armageddon. Student videographers at an American high school. Here the animators envision the end of time. Watch a giant rock, jagged as a kidney stone, hurtle through the asteroid belt, watch a mushroom cloud bloom on its stalk, a moldering flowerhead. Listen to vials of anthrax splinter under a boot. In the final animation, Earth heats up. Corn hairs burn at the roots. Elk stampede, antlers on fire. Cinders blister a rooftop, red sparks jump to the house next door.
Ellen LaFleche is a judge for the North Street Book Prize, the author of Walking into Lightning (Saddle Road Press) and three chapbooks. Ruth Stone Poetry Prize, the Tor House Poetry Prize, the Philbrick Poetry Prize and the Joe Gouveia Outermost Poetry Prize.